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Who’s in Charge Here?

The Invisible Government

by David Wise, by Thomas B. Ross
Random House, 361 pp., $5.95

One must acknowledge that Mr. Goldwater has made a felicitous contribution to our political language by his reference to Washington as the Land of Oz. The Senator’s six-shooter, for once, is unerringly on target—Washington, like Oz, is physically divided into four parts, and somewhere on the wilder outskirts of Munchkin Country lies the CIA and its director, John A. McCone, a true Wizard of Oz, whose specialty is dirty tricks.

So accustomed has the world become to these dirty tricks that not a government seems to fall without the CIA getting some part of the blame or credit. Denials are brushed aside with a knowing smile. As soon as those cabalistic initials “CIA” are uttered, the world is prepared to believe nothing and suspect everything—the very phrase “official version” has become synonymous with a possible lie. And for good reason.

Messrs. Wise and Ross, on the last page of their interesting book, quote these bland assurances:

U-2: “There were absolutely no—N-O—no deliberate attempt to violate Soviet airspace. There never has been.”—Lincoln White, State Department spokesman

Bay of Pigs: “The American people are entitled to know whether we are intervening in Cuba or intend to do so in the future. The answer to that question is no.”—Secretary of State Rusk

The Guatemala Putsch of 1954: “The situation is being cured by the Guatemalans themselves.”—Secretary of State Dulles

Small wonder, surely, that so many were so suspicious when the destroyer Maddox was fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin. South Vietnam, after all, has enjoyed the most favored attention of the Wizard’s apprentices. The week of crisis was not over before it was learned that the initial attack on the Maddox was not quite so simple as it seemed. On August 7, the conservative Washington Star published an account by its Pentagon correspondent, Richard Fryklund, that threw new light on the incident.

According to Fryklund, on August 1 the South Vietnamese were in Tonkin Gulf, landing guerrilla raiders on the island of Hon Me, some ten miles from the coast of North Vietnam. These guerrilla raids are gray operations which run counter to nominal policy in Saigon and Washington. On this particular day, the “American advisors” in South Vietnam who coordinate the raids failed to notify the Seventh Fleet of the operation.

Hence on the fateful Saturday the Maddox was on a wholly unrelated mission when she happened to sail near Hon Me Island (which is, incidentally, about thirty miles from the PT boat bore that was subsequently the target of a U.S. reprisal raid). Evidently, the North Vietnamese thought the Maddox had been shelling the island or had been escorting the South Vietnamese raiding vessels. The attack followed. This background helps to explain why the US at first sought to minimize the incident, believing that the attack sprang from an error.

On August 9, another troubling item appeared, this time in the New York Herald Tribune in a story by Beverly Deepe cabled from Saigon. The dispatch began:

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency canceled in mid-July its part of a multi-million dollar contract with a private American aviation company that had the undercover mission at airlifting guerrilla supplies behind enemy lines in North Viet-Nam and Communist-held sections of Laos.

Reliable military sources said that pilots of more than 12 aircraft included Chinese and Turkish nationals, but not Americans. American civilians were used for ground support…The American government, through CIA, about two years ago had signed jointly with the Vietnamese government a contract with a private American firm called American Aviation Investors, Inc.

To anyone who has read The Invisible Government, or for that matter to anyone who is familiar with the ways of power in the Land of Oz, the item has a melancholy and familiar ring. The use of a “cover” firm, the employment of a weird assortment of foreign nationals, the conduct of a private war at variance with stated official policy—all this is consistent with a dozen other episodes described by Messrs. Wise and Ross. Some of the incidents are by now thrice-told tales: the U-2 affair, the ousting of Arbenz; the Cuban invasion; the coup in Laos; the Chinese Nationalist army that was implanted in Burma; the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran, with the help of Kermit (Kim) Roosevelt, CIA agent and grandson of the Rough Rider.

Yet other revelations are more startling, particularly the passages on the extensive CIA operations in the foreign land known as the United States. As the authors summarize it, these activities have come to include “maintenance of a score of CIA offices in major cities; the control of private businesses serving as CIA covers (such as the Gibraltar Steamship Corporation and Zenith Technical Enterprises, Inc.); academic programs (such as the Center for International Studies at MIT); and the financing and control of freedom radio stations, publishing ventures and of exile and ethnic groups.” (The “publishing ventures” are not identified.)

By virtue of its foreign operations, the CIA has fearfully damaged the credibility of the voice of America. But these domestic operations are just as iniquitous They suggest a view of state and society that is perilously close to the Communist view in which there is no such thing, really, as a “private sector.” In combatting the Communist mentality, the CIA seems to be coming close to imitating it; if allowed to continue, these covert subsidies of colleges and publishing firms could destroy a most precious resource of a free society—the belief that books, teachers, and newspapers are not instruments of the state.

Another thought occurs. The CIA and other intelligence agencies employ an estimated 200,000 persons and spends an annual amount calculated at $4 billion (which is four times the amount just voted by Congress in the anti-poverty “war”). Control over these funds is necessarily loose. No one denies that bribery of foreign politicians is a widespread CIA technique. What guarantee is there, in the Munchkinland of the CIA, that some eager operative in the US may decide that a little bribery in defense of liberty is no vice, here in our own land of the free…

All of which raises the question as to whether we really need a CIA as presently constituted. Messrs. Wise and Ross offer the conventional answer and conclude that we do. They prescribe more supervision in the form of a congressional watchdog committee on the model of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Certainly such a committee would be preferable to the present feeble legislative oversight. But Wise and Ross, it seems to me, do not give sufficient weight to the objection that in our system watchdogs (i.e., our regulatory agencies) too often become the captives of those they are supposed to watch.

Some of us would go further and second the view of former President Truman, who commented last December that he “would like to see the CIA restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President, and whatever else it can properly perform in that special field—and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.” Mr. Truman went on to remark, creditably:

We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.

The case for elimination of the CIA dirty tricks department can be argued on the ground of principle. But the case can also be made in terms of the most fashionable tough-minded pragmatism. The fact is that Americans show a singular and perhaps becoming incompetence in conspiratorial meddling. The Wise and Ross narrative exhaustively demonstrates the point. In Cuba, in Laos, in Vietnam, in Burma, the CIA has shown a prodigious capacity for executing conspicuous pratfalls. Sometimes the agency has blundered through reliance on stooges or through a built-in bias for rightist anti-Communists. More often, it would seem, the fiascoes have been innocent of any ideological content. “It is the misfortune of our age,” Rebecca West has written, “…that the life of a political conspirator offers the man of restricted capacity but imaginative energy greater excitement and satisfaction than he can ever derive from overt activities.” There is no better description of the citizens of the invisible government who specialize in conspiracy.

Why shouldn’t the CIA restrict itself to gathering intelligence, a task that it reportedly performs with more éclat? Whatever gains the agency may have obtained for the US through what Mr. Truman called “a subverting influence in the affairs of other people” has been more than offset by a loss of respect for American pretensions and a loss of faith in American judgment. This is the inescapable conclusion that a reader of The Invisible Government may form, though it is not the conclusion of the authors. Nevertheless, Wise and Ross have written a useful book. In the other Land of Oz, the Wizard conjured up an Emerald City by making everyone wear green spectacles. The CIA, I gather, is outraged by the persistent refusal of reporters like Wise and Ross to use tinted glasses. More power to them.

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